Tag Archives: Earthquakes


Litercurious Book Review

TitlePlate Tectonics and Great Earthquakes
AuthorLynn R. Sykes (Ph.D.)
PublisherColumbia University Press (Jun 4, 2019)
FormatKindle, Hardcover
ISBN #0231186886   ISBN #-13 (978-0231186889)     


Lynn Sykes is a Higgins Professor Emeritus, of Environmental Earth Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Sykes graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) and Master of Science (M.Sc.) in geology from MIT in 1960. Later Sykes attended Columbia University where he earned his Doctorate in seismology in 1965. Three years later Sykes became a faculty member and was named the Higgins Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He taught geophysics, plate tectonics, and environmental hazards. Sykes became a member of the staff of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in 1965 and remained there until 2005 when he retired as a professor emeritus.

Dr. Sykes is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union which honored him with its Macelwane and Bucher Awards. Although Dr. Sykes is currently retired, he continues his lifelong research on earthquakes and nuclear explosions.


Professor Sykes ‘a posteriori’ writing style combined with the lack of ‘layman’ terms could prove to be off putting for those who are unlettered. Despite this, the science is well described and completely comprehensible to those with even a fundamental comprehension of basic High School science. For these reasons I would suggest that this manuscript is best suited to individuals with a strong interest in the subject or a broad knowledge of the science. Students of earth sciences, geophysics, oceanographers, and those who lecture in any of these subjects are the target audience. Those who would like to know more about the life and times of Dr. Skyes may appreciate the detailed biographic information about the scientist, his academics and his social journey.


The manuscript is very well written and is replete with an abundance of facts relating to the geologic sciences. In chapter one, Sykes provides a brief informative introduction on the subject. He has taken the time to provide beautifully detailed colored plates that significantly improve the understanding of the subject. 

I the next chapter Dr. Sykes introduces himself. I note that some reviewers saw this as a negative aspect of the volume; I did not, I found it both fascinating and elucidating. His qualifications clarified the extensive education and of over half a century of experience that collectively with his illustrious academic background supports the science in his text.

The following chapters, except for one, focused on complex and detailed information communicated via glorious full color plates, diagrams, photographs, and graphs. 

Within these chapters there are repeated mentions of the illustrious and notable, J. Tuzo Wilson (Ph.D.) of Toronto University. It was Dr. Wilson who recognized and originated the Theory of Transform Faults, a radically innovative method of earthquake study and analysis. Dr. Wilson is referenced 21 times throughout the book. Whilst the eminent German Geophysicist, Meterologist, and acknowledged originator of the Continental Drift Theory Dr. Alfred Wegener Ph.D. is only mentioned once. I considered the limited discussion on Dr. Wegener’s work on Continental Drift to be concerning. It was, after all, Dr. Wilson’s theory that ultimately led to today’s model of Plate Tectonics. 


Whilst the Plate Tectonics and Great Earthquakes cannot be described as scintillating or thrilling read it is informative, knowledgeably written, and full of a wealth of valuable information. The volume can undoubtedly prove to be a challenging read. However, if you apply yourself and commit to completing the book, your reward will be an improvement in understanding a modern and increasingly relevant scientific discipline. 

If I entertained any suggestions for improvements to the layout of the book; I would suggest that the plates are placed in-situ with the relevant chapter and not collated in the rear. I found it incredibly tedious and time asking to move back and forth to examine the graphics.

I found the glossary and references to be clear, concise, and useful.


My sincere thanks go to: The Author, NetGalley, and Columbia University Press, for affording me the opportunity to review Plate Tectonics and Great Earthquakes.